No one guilty at the BBC

No one in BBC management ever pays a price for the BBC’s mistakes. They just happen, like the weather

Editorial

This article is taken from the December 2020 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.


Done deals can become no deals very quickly. One moment it was a done deal — on the front page of The Times, no less — that Lee Cain was going to become the prime minister’s chief of staff. The next moment, the former No 10 director of communications was seeking new opportunities. Another example of Dominic Cummings’s tendency to overbrief and underdeliver was the recent banner headline that the former Spectator, Daily and Sunday Telegraph editor, Lord Moore, was going to become chairman of the BBC. Happily, Moore didn’t lose out by being touted in this way, but nor did the rest of us gain him as BBC chairman. The need to do something about the corporation is as great as ever, but who can have any faith that this government will?

The damp squib of the panel of advisers that the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, has assembled to help him to investigate the BBC prior to charter renewal can encourage no one. The charter will be renewed, the BBC will get its money, and will go on collecting it, upon pain of imprisonment, in ways which were archaic when they were introduced, never mind now.

For years, the official BBC line on pay was: we can’t tell you what we’re paying ourselves because otherwise all our talent will be snatched away

Money is a useful place to start with the BBC’s faults. Put aside how it demands it, see how it pays itself. We know it has been paying itself far too much for years because its defence now is that it’s no longer doing so. Yet if you boast about cutting Gary Lineker’s income, for example, by £400,000, who takes responsibility for having overpaid him so much for so long? No one.

For years, the official BBC line on pay was: we can’t tell you what we’re paying ourselves because otherwise all our talent will be snatched away (by namelessly wealthy rival employers, they live in the next media village, you wouldn’t know them). Then it was obliged to tell us and the line became: we’re worth it. This was followed by, we’re sorry, our pay structure was racist and sexist — who did that? — but now it’s not: give us more money please.

Indeed, while no one in BBC management ever pays a price for the BBC’s mistakes — they just happen, like the weather: what do you want? accountability? — it’s curious how angry people who support the BBC become about criticism of it. For that’s the next step to fascism.

Yet every time the BBC confesses to a problem that others had accused it of for years — such as gross and secretive overpayments — what do these partisans do? They perform mental gymnastics which would have done the Daily Worker credit on the day after the Nazi-Soviet pact. For when the BBC criticises itself, that’s a solution, and proof of its virtue. 

The new director-general, Tim Davie, has performed these somersaults with gusto. BBC staff will now no longer be allowed to “virtue signal” on social media. Not that they were before, of course (only crypto-fascists suggested that). But rather, the idea — probably stoked up by the cryptos — that BBC staff were inadvertently creating the, entirely false, impression of partiality in their monotonous, predictable, one-sided tweets will be stamped upon. The game shall no longer be given away. 

Or as holy writ puts it in Guidance: Individual Use of Social Media, verse 1: “Those working for the BBC have an obligation to ensure that the BBC’s editorial decisions are not perceived to be influenced by any personal interest or bias.”

It’s curious how angry people who support the BBC become about criticism of it

In unrelated good news, the cash-strapped, famously impartial broadcaster has also found £100 million to spend “increasing diversity”. And if you have to ask what diversity is, or is meant to mean, your status as part of the problem should be obvious even to you.

The previous director-general, Lord Hall, committed the BBC to fighting the good fight against such sins as the lack of off-screen talent coming from “under-represented groups”, and programmes failing the corporation’s newly-erected diversity test. 

You need to administer two out of three sacraments to enter heaven, or be commissioned at any rate: “Diverse stories and portrayal on-screen, diverse production teams and talent, and diverse-led production companies”. The list goes on, as it would need to: spending all that money can’t be easy now that Gary Lineker is getting so little of it.

Again, no one should take the decision to spend £100 million fighting racism and increasing diversity as proof that the BBC was or is racist or insufficiently diverse — and certainly not in any way that suggests senior BBC management past or present should be held responsible for that culpable racism or non-diversity. 

Rather, BBC managers are to be applauded for their commitment to fight the racism and lack of diversity with which they somehow find themselves confronted. Certainly, the BBC applauds itself for doing so. Reconcile these thoughts and you could have a good pension soon.

Maybe Charles Moore would have done something about this from the chair he never got. Someone should, as no one in New Broadcasting House is even going to try.

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